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Ballard, Christian Church criticize 'religious freedom' bill

March 25, 2015
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Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard and a major religious organization have joined a growing list of civic and business leaders expressing opposition to the controversial “religious freedom restoration” bill, which will become law unless vetoed by Gov. Mike Pence.

Ballard issued a written statement on Wednesday saying the bill “sends the wrong signal" about Indiana.

“I don't believe this legislation truly represents our state or our capital city,” he said in the statement. “Indianapolis strives to be a welcoming place that attracts businesses, conventions, visitors and residents. We are a diverse city, and I want everyone who visits and lives in Indy to feel comfortable here.”

The legislation, Senate Bill 101, would prohibit any state laws that "substantially burden" a person's ability to follow his or her religious beliefs and has a definition of a person that includes religious institutions, businesses and associations.

Groups supporting the measure say it would prevent the government from compelling people to provide services such as catering or photography for same-sex weddings or other activities they find objectionable for religious reasons.

Opponents say such a law could provide legal cover for discrimination against gay people.

Also on Wednesday, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) wrote a letter to Pence that said the bill “will be a factor in whether we continue with our plans to hold an assembly in Indianapolis in 2017.”

The organization, a mainline Protestant Christian group that has been headquartered in Indianapolis for nearly 100 years, draws about 6,000 visitors to its general assemblies, which take place every other year. The organization has more than 625,000 members in 3,600 congregations.

 “Purportedly a matter of religious freedom, we find [the legislation] contrary to the values of our faith—as well as to our national and Hoosier values,” the letter said. “Our nation and state are strong when we welcome people of many backgrounds and points of view. The free and robust exchange of ideas is part of what makes our democracy great.”
 
The statements from Ballard and the Christian Church came one day after the CEO of GenCon, one of the city’s largest conventions, said he would consider moving the event to another city after 2020 if the bill becomes law. The event drew 56,000 people to downtown Indianapolis in 2014.

The bill has already passed the Indiana House 63-31 and the Senate 40-10. Sponsors of the bill say it is closely modeled on a federal religious freedom law passed in 1993 and that 19 other states already have similar laws.

Pence said he intends to sign the bill. It would also pass into law without his signature.

Corporate critics of the bill have included Cummins Inc. and Salesforce.com.

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